Social behavior is most commonly associated with electrical and chemical signaling in the brain. But, did you know that your gut may also communicate with your brain? There is emerging evidence that the gut microbiome, a population of about 100 trillion microorganisms that resides in the gastrointestinal tract, may communicate with the central nervous system to mediate cognitive function and behavior. In both rodent models and humans, gut dysbiosis (an imbalance in gut microbial communities) is associated with a suite of immune and psychological disorders, including anxiety and depression. Therefore, exploring the mechanisms by which the gut microbiome affects social behavior not only aids in the development of treatments for these psychopathologies, but it also enhances our understanding of how this complex system contributes to fitness.
Research in Dr. Greg Demas’s lab in the Department of Biology at IU focuses on investigating how disrupting the gut microbiome influences different social behaviors. Kristyn Sylvia, a fifth year Ph.D. student in the lab, has spent much of her graduate career exploring the physiological and hormonal underpinnings of gut-microbiome interactions. Kristyn’s research is unique among the majority of gut microbiome studies as her work utilizes a non-traditional animal model, Siberian hamsters, to examine the behavioral consequences of gut dysbiosis. Unlike germ-free mice, which are the model system of choice for most microbiome research, non-model species allow research to examine the natural functions of gut microbiota in mammals. (more…)